What is your earliest library memory? If you’re reading this paper, you probably pre-date the personal computer era. Most of us grew up in a world where reading was the basis for everything. Think about it, if you can’t read, how can you solve a math word problem, or follow directions in a science lab? It’s still that way, for the most part, but today there are so many more ways to consume information and stories. There’s TV, of course, but now you can listen to audio books while you’re driving, watch a video of a news story online, or download podcasts to consume via headphones while walking or exercising. What we read about in science fiction novels back in the fifties is now just ho hum, taken for granted.
I remember the library in my elementary school. What a place! One whole section was devoted to biographies. I still remember reading about Marie Antoinette. She didn’t really say, “Let them eat cake.” Then there were books like Amazon Adventure, about a boy whose father collected wild animals for a zoo. Probably totally un-PC, but I couldn’t put it down.
What Alec remembers most about his neighborhood library, besides the books, obviously, is that it just felt like a safe place for kids.
When our children were little we lived in San Francisco and I’d take them to the Noe Valley Library for story time. What a classic library building that is – stone façade, wide staircase, high, coffered ceilings, beautiful carved wood window cases and crown molding. There’s a separate Children’s Room and the kids would pick out as many books as they could carry home.
The only problem at the time was the weird hours. This was in the early 1990s and the library was only open a couple of days a week, something like Wednesday morning, one weeknight in the evening, and Saturday. We moved to Sonoma County in 1994 and I was so excited to discover that the libraries were open almost all the time. Today the Rincon Valley Library is open six days a week (closed on Sundays), including staying open until 9 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday. That says a lot about our priorities.
Of course, today’s libraries offer much more than reading material. There are computers and classes, music programs, tutoring sessions, maker studios where kids can learn to code, chess lessons. There’s even a hair braiding workshop for tweens, and a “Read to a Dog” hour. And, of course, still and always, story time. Story time is one of the most popular events at any library. There’s just something wonderful about sitting in a circle and listening to a story being read out loud, unhurriedly exploring the illustrations, waiting for the page to turn.
With the advent of the printing press, the world moved away from the oral tradition where lore and wisdom was passed down via word of mouth, to where we are today, where information is written down and people read. I wonder if our new technologies are steering us back to the oral tradition? After all, who doesn’t want to listen to a good story? All I can say is thank God for libraries and librarians!
To find out more about your local library, go to sonomalibrary.org.